Forty-five years ago I saw a film I have never forgotten. It was featured at the Johnson’s Wax pavilion at the 1964 New York World’s Fair.
Shown on three separate 18 foot screens and lasting all of 17 ½ minutes, the film “To Be Alive” celebrated human life around the world. I watched it more than once and each time I left the pavilion I saw life all around me in ways I never did before, at least not as intensely.
Time magazine wrote, “The World’s Fair is so resplendently miscellaneous that it defies a blue ribbon for any one pavilion, exhibit or show. Nonetheless, there is nothing better on the grounds than a movie called ‘To Be Alive!’” The lines at the pavilion seconded that opinion.
I mention the film for two reasons: first, Thanksgiving always reminds me to be especially grateful not only for family but also for the gift of life. Invariably the holiday raises my consciousness of what it means to be alive in the most challenging sense of the words, being and living; second, at this stage of my life, my mind needs multiple screens to capture the range of all that I am thankful for.
What struck me most, 45 years ago as I left the film’s showing, were the many things I took for granted back then (and still do) about life and its simplest gifts. That day, the trees in Flushing Meadow became huge flowers to my eyes; the clothes people were wearing an explosion of colors worthy of any art gallery; the faces around me a literal world of stories; and the noise, music, laughter and even the shrill complaints of overtired children – all a symphony of life. The feeling, of course, did not last. But the concept of the film still runs in my mind, particularly at Thanksgiving.
My three screens (I could easily add others) come alive with people, events, places and all sorts of images. Family and friends dominate, since people are life to me; trips east and west, south and north; weddings, reunions; places I have seen for the first time, others I will never forget; e-mails, snail-mail surprises, cell phones; skylines, mountain vistas, sunrises, sunsets and starlights, and pansies on the patio. And that is just the first minute or so!
True, life is not always Kodachrome or as poetic as “To Be Alive.” But I have learned to be grateful for even the worst parts of life if only because they give me growth, at least in retrospect.
Finally, I am thankful for Thanksgiving. I do not want to imagine a year without the holiday. Afterwards, I strive to make its meaning a part of every day. I hope you do, too.